ORONO — Erin Vinson from the University of Maine serves as managing editor for an internationally recognized online journal that helps thousands of biology instructors in various undergraduate courses. The journal, CourseSource, will launch a new publication for physics curricula that Vinson, and others, will also help oversee.   

Recent Yidan Prize for Education Research recipient and 2001 Nobel Prize-winning physicist Carl Wieman donated $200,000 to CourseSource, which offers free access to peer-reviewed articles detailing student-centered, evidence-based biology activities, to create the new outlet for introductory undergraduate physics classes. Wieman, a Stanford University professor and world-renowned education researcher, serves on the advisory board for the open-access and peer-reviewed journal.

The National Science Foundation’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (NSF-IUSE) program is also bolstering CourseSource by allocating a collaborative research grant journal leadership and Cornell University can research and develop lessons suited for online learning and offer new professional development opportunities for authors.

Vinson, the STEM professional development coordinator for the School of Biology and Ecology and campus coordinator for the Maine Center for Research in STEM Education (RiSE Center), says the new Physics CourseSource will publish articles detailing different lessons and include everything an instructor will need to teach the lesson, such as presentation slides, worksheets, assessments and other instructional materials. Vinson will serve as principal investigator, her first time in the role for an NSF grant-funded project.  

Physics CourseSource will launch in July, and have several lesson articles available by the fall. The journal also will launch its new website on the QUBES platform, which is designed to support teachers of biology and other science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Users will be able to select whether to view the physics or biology version of CourseSource on its homepage, Vinson says, though some articles may appear in both versions.

Andy Rundquist, the editor-in-chief for Physics CourseSource, says it will focus on offering resources for teaching several first-year level physics concepts including mechanics, rotational motion, oscillations, waves, thermodynamics, electricity and magnetism, circuits and optics. The publication also will help instructors teach first-year-level astronomy and physics concepts in other physical sciences, such as engineering and chemistry, and life sciences. 

Rundquist, also a physics professor at Hamline University in Minnesota, is recruiting partner organizations to help define learning goals for lessons and physicists and physics education researchers to serve as editors, reviewers and authors for the publication. 

“Having a place where physics teacher practitioners can share and learn the details of how to best achieve their teaching and learning goals is really exciting,” Rundquist says. 

The journal currently offers articles and materials for lessons in a variety of disciplines in the biology field, including ecology, genetics, toxicology, bioinformatics, evolution, immunology, microbiology and more. It also highlights the commitment of its authors to both teaching and the scholarship of teaching and learning, Vinson says. 

“Part of the design of CourseSource is that it’s very detailed in the sense that instructors can come in, pick up a lesson and teach it the next day,” she says, “every detail is laid out, every document or handout that would be needed is provided.” 

Both former UMaine associate professor of biological sciences Michelle Smith and Vinson joined CourseSource in 2017 as editor-in-chief and managing editor, respectively. 

Prior to serving leadership roles with CourseSource, Smith, an associate professor and recently appointed associate dean of undergraduate education for the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University, Vinson and colleagues from from UMaine, other University of Maine System campuses, the Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership in Rockland, and the University of Calgary, published an article in CourseSource based on their collaborative work. Work for the article was funded by the Research Reinvestment Fund through UMaine, which supported a larger effort to connect faculty from all campuses in the University of Maine System with employers to develop, revise and study the impacts of shared instructional activities used in introductory biology courses, Vinson says. Smith served as principal investigator for the effort. 

CourseSource originally launched in 2014 with funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. While working at UMaine, Smith, with aid from Vinson and other researchers, spearheaded a project funded by an NSF-IUSE grant of about $275,000 in 2017 to grow CourseSource. As a result, Vinson says content production increased from 20 articles to over 50 articles per year, and registered users spiked from 500–11,000. 

“It’s been so exciting, because I feel since I started in 2017, the community has just exploded,” Vinson says, adding that she hears from instructors worldwide who “use the resource (and) love how easy it is to take what they know as high-quality and vetted education resources and use them seamlessly in their class.”